A Father’s Duties
In the parking lot at the Petco store, I watch a dad with his three kids. Two boys and girl. The boys are maybe seven and eight; the little girl perhaps four. At the entrance to the store, Dad stops. I see him tell the boys to wait a second. Dad has noticed that the girl’s sundress is all bunched up at the waist. He hair looks like it has been the victim of the open car window. Dad straightens his daughter’s dress. He adjusts her headband and runs his fingers as a quick comb through her hair. He nods his head. They all go into the store.
This is what a father does.
He takes care of his kids, whether it is making sure they are wearing their seatbelts or whether they need a hair repair.
Some people think dads are mostly oblivious.
Good dads should notice.
Good dads should be the dads of small things.
I come from an older generation. The generation where your parents took on the most traditional of roles.
Many of us had fathers who worked incredibly hard to support their families. My father-in-law, who I sadly never knew, always worked two jobs. He may have worked too much. He may not have spent as much time as he would have liked with his family. But he showed his love by working for them. I don’t undervalue that enormous sacrifice.
Dads may have been strict – the unwavering tough guy and breadwinner – back in my day.
But they also had a softer side – that today may be more common, but was just as cherished then as it is today. Maybe more cherished. A father’s time with his children was often limited, so we loved it when we were so fortunate.
My father never took us shopping, like the dad I describe at the beginning of this story. I don’t think he would ever have even thought of it. But he took us skating in the winter and swimming in the summer. And he took us out for ice cream cones. And he often didn’t have one himself (neither did my mother) even though they loved ice cream. Dad spent his money on us. Years later, he told me that he often put only a dollar’s worth of gas in the car so he could spend his only other dollar on ice cream cones.
And rides. Traditional fathers were good at rides. It seems today that Mom is mostly the chauffeur, but in my day, Dads did a lot of driving. Of course, we kids didn’t go to that many places that we didn’t walk to. But when we did, it was Dad waiting in his car at the end of our day.
I especially remember my best friend Doris’ father. His shift at the factory ended at 3:30. And if we could get to the town swimming pool, often by walking the long, hot uphill mile-and-a-half, he would be there in his big old Ford at 3:45 to give us a ride home. Always. And always cheerful.
Traditional Dads would teach you things. My father-in-law taught my husband to fix a car. My dad taught me how to play Cribbage and how to follow a football game.
My father taught me how to slow dance.
Traditional dads held you to a high standard. Good grades, chores, politeness – these were required. But they also let you slide on the stuff that was important to you, but what didn’t matter in the long run. They let you blow bubbles in your milk. And they let you – at least once – take a sip of their beer.
And while expecting great things of you, these old-fashioned dads let you know that it was okay to fail. My father may have taught me to play Cribbage, but he didn’t let me win. And all us kids got a “Good try!” when we didn’t make the team or get the part in the play.
These dads let you be silly. They told corny jokes and made funny faces. And they told you stories about the dumb stuff they did as kids. They made you roll on the floor.
Although my father was the traditional dad of the fifties and sixties, he was amazingly ahead of his times, especially when it came to traditional roles themselves.
My father was proud of my mother’s education and work as a nurse. And encouraged his three daughters to try everything and expect success.
Recently a Twitter hashtag game called for responses to the following:
Think there was anything a girl couldn’t do.
All three of his daughters (and his son) went to college and earned graduate degrees. We were all successful in our careers and our personal lives.
Dad believed that there was nothing we could not do. He supported every effort, every dream.
Here is a story about my traditional, old-fashioned dad that I have never told anyone.
When I was thirty, I was unmarried but desperately wanted to be a mother. I had heard about a woman who was bringing orphans from El Salvador to the U.S. for adoption. El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war and it was a dangerous place. I contacted this woman and found out what I would need to do in order to adopt one of these children. I completed reams of paperwork, was fingerprinted, and registered with the El Salvadoran embassy.
I waited. It was very difficult. Most of my friends and family and work associates were not supportive. Not out of any meanness or xenophobia, but out of worry. What if the child was ill? What if she could not adapt? How could I manage as a single mother? And the situation in El Salvador was so volatile that the regulations and standards for adoption changed repeatedly.
In the end, El Salvador shut down its U.S. adoptions before my source could find me a child. So it was not to be. Which I grieve for to this day.
But when all was still up in the air, when I still had hope along with fear, when my family was still trying to talk me out of it, my father took me aside one day.
“This is just between us,” he said. “But if you get the chance for a child, and if things change and the child cannot be brought to you – if you need to go to El Salvador to get her – I just want you to know, I will go with you.”
A father has many duties.
A good father will fix your hair.
Or go into a war-torn country to keep you – and your dreams – safe.
Happy Father’s Day.